What came first, the chicken or the egg?
This eternally unanswered question lies at the heart of Sweetness #9, the new novel by Stephan Eirik Clark. A fictionalized account of the current debate over food production and the Western diet, the novel follows the story of the Levereaux family during the period of the American food revolution. The father, David, works as a flavourist, but he came into his role after an eventful start doing animal research at one of America’s leading food production companies. What David sees and doesn’t see in the production of the bestselling, ubiquitous artificial sweetener called Sweetness #9 sends him on a decades long search for the truth.
While David struggles with questions of ethical responsibility, his family falls apart at the seams. His long-suffering wife, Betty, fights the age-old battle of the bulge, but is hers the quest of Sisyphus and the rock? Meanwhile, David’s children, daughter Priscilla and son Ernest, have problems of their own. But is their malaise caused by the composition of Sweetness #9 (found in almost everything they consume), or is it the result of the “American condition”? And just what caused this “American condition”, anyway?
Sweetness #9 veers off into strange territory while attempting to solve the mystery, but with great wit and sharp storytelling, Clark never loses his reader. Tangents aside, Sweetness #9 leaves one pondering the eternal question, thereby dismissing the notion that this particular formula is all empty calories.
ARC generously provided by Little, Brown and Company, and Netgalley.
Release date: August 19, 2014.